DACCA Diary from InterContinental Hotel by Wall Street Journal’s Peter R Kann
Tuesday, Dec 14, 1971
By early afternoon it appears that the battle of Dacca is about to begin. Indian MIGs rocket “Government House” – governor’s office – in central city. Two reporters return from several-hour drive southeast of city. They report Indian troops seven miles from city and advancing with only one river to cross. Considerable fighting. Indian planes drop leaflets on city calling for all military and paramilitary forces to surrender. To nearest Indian unit with guarantee of protection for lives and property.
Red Cross official says food situation in Dacca has become desperate. All foodstuffs in short supply, many shops closed, curfew prevents people reaching open shops, and prices now so high that poor cannot afford to buy remaining food anyway.
Local paper announces that “due to emergency situation and difficulties of communication, it has been decided to suspend the Get-a-Word Competition in East Pakistan until further notice. The inconvenience caused to the competitors is due to reasons beyond the control of the management and is regretted.” It’s midafternoon and more bombing close to city.
News of the resignation of A.M. Malik, governor of East Pakistan, and rest of civilian government. One UN official who was in the governor’s office about 1 p.m. says Malik wrote out the resignation longhand between the first and second Indian air strikes on Government House. Then Malik washed his feet, knelt and prayed. During brief interlude between the strikes, Gen. Rao Farman Ali Khan, deputy martial-law administrator here, ran down the hall past UN man and said: “Why are the Indians doing this to us?” UN man tells a reporter: “As we were under direct air attack at the time, I didn’t go into political explanations.” Paks really seem to think it’s somehow unfair, unsporting for India to be winning the war.
Later, a Pakistani colonel arrives at hotel gate and is asked how the military situation is going. “Plenty fine,” he says. “Will army surrender?” “Of course not.” “Will you keep fighting?” “Of course.” Very polite, very soft-spoken.
I spend two hours on door duty searching luggage of arriving ministers of civilian government who are seeking refuge here. Strange for a reporter, but all rules are fluid here. Some of ministers wait as if in trance as bags are combed. Others try to joke. One says: “Ashes to ashes and dust to dust; if the Indians don’t get you, the Muktis must.” But he can’t manage a smile at his own joke.
Several photographers return from site of afternoon air strikes. Say rockets hit civilian neighbourhood, killing at least a dozen Bengali civilians. At the site there were two young members of Mukti Bahini, or East Pakistani guerrillas. “Why did they (Indian planes) do it?” says one of the shaken Muktis. “We are their friends.”
Peter R Kann joined the staff of The Wall Street Journal in 1964 to become its publisher eventually. In 1972, he earned a Pulitzer for his coverage of the Liberation War of Bangladesh.